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Anchor Bay presents
X The Unknown (1956)

"Man has evolved from nothing to become the most intelligent creature on the surface of this planet. Now, considering the far greater span of time involved, isn't it reasonable to assume that the forces contained in the center of this earth have developed an intelligence of their own?"
- Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: August 12, 2000

Stars: Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman
Other Stars: Leo McKern, Anthony Newley, Jameson Clark, William Lucas
Director: Leslie Norman

Manufacturer: Crest International
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Horror gore)
Run Time: 01h:19m:45s
Release Date: July 25, 2000
UPC: 013131107494
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-A- C+

DVD Review

The early 1950's were a time when the world was living in an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. The Cold War maintained a constant threat of nuclear attack, McCarthyism raged in America, and the Korean War heightened the tension between east and west and fueled the arms race. The atomic bomb had brought a new dimension to the level of destruction possible in conflict, and the escalation of nuclear devices in the eastern and western hemispheres was prime breeding ground for fear of annihilation. The effects of radiation were horrifying, so propaganda enhancing the possibility of attack and a focus on a visible enemy kept tensions high.

As a result of this atomic threat, the movie industry came up with dozens of pictures demonstrating the effects of the atomic age on civilization. Most of these were in the form of science fiction or horror films depicting monsters and mutations born out of exposure to radiation, the most famous being 1956's Gojira. Most of these films had an underlying anti-atomic theme, but still, ideas of radioactive mutants invading earth made great drive-in fodder and were timely in their subject matter.

The debut screenplay by Jimmy Sangster (who would later pen several Hammer classics such as Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959) and Dracula: Prince Of Darkness (1966)) features just such a premise, an unknown force that feeds on radiation. As the film opens, British soldiers are performing training exercises using Geiger counters to locate radioactive samples in preparation for possible fallout from a nuclear attack. When a fissure opens in the earth and two soldiers are exposed to radiation, one fatally, the army calls in nuclear scientist Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger). Roysten is conducting independent experiments on neutralizing radioactive fields, much to the disapproval of his supervisor (Edward Chapman), who would prefer him to stick to his duties at their cobalt reactor. When more victims of this unknown force emerge, police inspector McGill (Leo McKern) is brought in to investigate, and employs Roysten to assist him. Roysten eventually comes up with an explanation for the occurences, and using his research devises a method of combatting the menace.

There are several interesting observations to be made about this film. First is the portrayal of the army as generally ineffectual - one scene shows the military attacking the source of the problem with flamethrowers and explosives, only to be thwarted in their efforts. We see a social commentary by the parent of one victim accusing the scientific community of causing the problem, a not-too-thinly-veiled attack on the creation of the atomic bomb. However, at the end of the day, it is the scientists who save the day. It is also interesting that the monster in the film, while devastating to those who come in contact with it, is not actually malevolent towards humans. It is the byproducts of its existence that is the threat - another not too subtle comment on the research and atomic development of the time.

From a special effects perspective, we are treated to some interesting visuals, including people melting, mutating flesh and radiation burns, and a menacing radioactive blob that is in constant search of more radioactive sustenance. These are pretty cheesy by today's standards, but they were well executed for the time. The plot has a lot of holes in it, and is forced along at times, especially during Dr. Roysten's explanation of his hypothesis about the monster, which pretty much comes out of thin air. Despite some overacting (the first encounters with the monster are handled with now cliche reaction shots from the victims, generally overplayed), the film has a charm that makes it very worthwhile viewing. Fans of '50's sci-fi will love it, and Anchor Bay's treatment of the film on this disc makes it all the more enjoyable.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: X The Unknown is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The black and white transfer is outstanding, with perfect grayscale rendition, sharp contrast and an overall excellent presentation. There is fine grain present and there are a few compression problems here and there, especially in complicated scenes like a thicket of barren trees, but for the most part the image is extremely well preserved.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is original mono and is free of excess hiss or other anomalies. This sounds way better than it would have in its original drive-in presentations unless you have a 4" center channel speaker!

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. World Of Hammer episode "Sci-Fi"
Extras Review: We are treated to another installment in the World Of Hammer series, this time "Sci-Fi." The 24-minute documentary features clips from Quatermass, Spaceways, Quatermass Xperiment, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Damned, Dick Barton Strikes Back, Quatermass and the Pit, and X The Unknown. Somewhat less cohesive than others in the series, we get a look at the key scenes, which may not be a good thing if you haven't seen the original films. Still this beats no supplements, and does give the viewer a feel for the style of each of the films presented.

Also included is a theatrical trailer and my personal favorite, the original artwork on a cardboard insert card, this time looking more like a daybill than one sheet rendition.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Predating The Blob by two years, this Hammer installment is somewhat unique amongst their catalogue for its storyline. Well executed, expertly filmed and presented on DVD in near pristine condition, I would have to give this one a recommendation for anyone interested in early sci-fi. The political overtones are noteworthy, as are the implications that if atomic energy did not exist, neither would the threat from this creature. Curl up with your favorite snack and enjoy - just make sure you can still hear the air raid sirens...


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